And then there's Follies, Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's monumental, bifurcated, permanently unworkable masterpiece from 1969. Both a textbook case of what's wrong with the modern musical and a one-evening textbook of the form's history, Follies is either the story of four unhappy people whose misery comes from believing that old-style musicals conveyed reality, or the story of how much more fun reality can be when you let old-style musicals convey it. These two stories can never be told together in a way that makes sense, especially since Sondheim, the musical theater's master ironist, finds ways in the show's final segment of doing exactly what the mature characters keep insisting is impossible: He dramatizes their mature dilemmas of the present in the lighthearted, funny, razzmatazz terms of the past.
With its twin stories demanding two differently enormous outlays of emotional effort, imagination, and expense, Follies calls for grand-scale-theater thinking of a kind not much available now. A physically abbreviated concert staging of the kind City Center Encores! offered is probably the only way today's cost-conscious Broadway could dream of approaching the work. Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw's rendering was stylish enough, in evoking the spectacle a concert staging necessarily has to eschew, to reveal the Roundabout's seedy, shameful attempt at a Follies revival a few years ago as the embarrassment it was. The Encores! cast was solider all round too; I'll go into detail if the show transfers, rumors of which are rife.